In late June, 2011, I said goodbye to hundreds of TV channels as I cancelled my DirecTV account. Teaming an old-fashioned VHF/UHF TV antenna mounted on the side of the house, a PC running Windows 7’s Windows Media Center, and an Xbox 360, we’re still able to watch almost all the shows we watched before in two rooms, but with monthly expenses well under $50/month. (Netflix, Hulu Plus, and a few TV series bought on Zune.)
In the living room, we have a media center PC, as well as an Xbox 360. The Media Center PC picks up about 20 HD channels. These channels look better than cable or DirecTV, because they’re not as heavily compressed. We get all the major networks and PBS, plus some subchannels that show classic TV shows, syndicated programs, and additional PBS shows, all recorded on the Media Center PC. We can also use this to watch any PC-compatible video services, such as Amazon, iTunes, and Hulu Plus shows that are “web-only.”
Though we could watch these services on the PC, we watch Hulu Plus and Netflix on the Xbox 360. The easy user interfaces and Kinect voice control are popular with the family. The Xbox 360 isn’t necessary here, but since we have it in the room anyway, might as well take advantage of it.
In the bedroom, a second Xbox 360 (the under-$200 4GB model is fine for this) lets us watch everything we can watch in the living room. It acts as a Media Center extender, so we can watch all of the HD shows we record on the PC, as well as live TV. We can also listen to the music stored on the PC. Plus, of course, we have Hulu Plus and Netflix on the Xbox 360 as well.
You can use an older, retired PC for recording – it doesn’t take much oomph – but I specifically built a low-power-usage PC that could handle big-screen gaming, media center duties, and Blu-ray video playback, and also act as a backup location for music, documents, and photos copied by a batch file on a regular basis from my office PC.
Also, keep in mind that you could just as easily put the Media Center PC in an office or bedroom and just use an Xbox 360 extender in your main TV room.With a Harmony Remote to simplify control of multiple devices, this setup is no more difficult to use than the DirecTV DVR/Xbox 360 combo we were using before. And the initial investment in hardware will be more than paid for in over $1K in savings by not paying a monthly satellite bill.